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THE SINNER’S HOPE
Psalms 35:3. Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
SUSPENSE is extremely painful to the human mind, and the more so in proportion to the danger to which we are exposed. David experienced this in a very high degree. In the psalm before us he appears to have been greatly agitated with fear on account of the number and malignity of the enemies who sought his ruin, and were exulting in the expectation of his speedy fall. Seeing no hope for himself in the efforts of his adherents, he betook himself to prayer, and with most earnest importunity implored that help from his Creator which the creature was unable to afford. And as it was with an armed host that he was beset, he addressed the Lord under the character of a mighty warrior, to stand forth in his defence: “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight thou against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.”
This last petition I propose to consider,
As offered by him—
Nothing could exceed the bitterness of David’s enemies—
[If we mark the diversified expressions in this psalm, we shall have some idea of the danger to which he was exposed. Saul having determined if possible to destroy him, his subjects of every description leagued together to execute his will. “False witnesses rose up, and laid to David’s charge things which he knew not;” and, in confirmation of their accusations, declared that they were eye-witnesses of the acts imputed to him [Note: ver. 11, 21.]. Among the number of these were many on whom he had conferred the greatest obligations [Note: ver. 12.], and to whom he had given no just occasion of offence [Note: ver. 19.]. “They devised deceitful matters against him [Note: ver. 20.]:” “they hid a net for him, and digged a pit for his soul [Note: ver. 7.].” To encourage one another in their odious work, “they winked with their eye [Note: ver. 19.];” and, when they thought they had prevailed against him, “they rejoiced in his adversity [Note: ver. 15.];” and “magnified themselves against him [Note: ver. 26.],” and “said in their hearts, Ah! so would we have it: we have swallowed him up [Note: ver. 26.].” The very abjects, encouraged by the example of their superiors, gathered themselves together against him, and tare him incessantly; whilst hypocritical mockers in their feasts, (pretending to more humanity,) yet “gnashed upon him with their teeth [Note: ver. 15, 16.].” In a word, all classes of the commmunity lay in wait for his soul [Note: ver. 4.], and, like lions prowling for their prey, sought to destroy and to devour him [Note: ver. 17, 25.].]
Under these circumstances he cried to God for help—
[The particular expression in our text is worthy of notice, especially as shewing what thoughts the Psalmist entertained of God. He believed that God was able to deliver him, how powerful soever his enemies might be. He knew, that if God was for him, “no weapon that was formed against him could prosper.” Nor did he doubt the goodness of God, as willing to hear and answer his petitions, and to afford him the protection which he so earnestly desired. But that which chiefly demands our attention is, his persuasion of the condescension of the Most High, in that he prayed, nor merely for deliverance, but for such an assurance of it to his soul, as should calm all the tumult of his mind, and fill him with perfect peace.
Now this was the sure way to succeed in prayer. Nothing so secures the interposition of God in our behalf, as the magnifying of him in our hearts: “Them that honour him, he will honour.” If we limit his mercies, he will limit his gifts, If we doubt his power or willingness to help, he will withhold such displays of his mercy as he would otherwise have vouchsafed [Note: Matthew 13:58.]. On the other hand, if we be steadfast in believing expectations of his mercy, we shall have such discoveries of his glory as an unbelieving heart has no conception of [Note: John 11:40.]. We should never forget, that there is nothing too great to ask of God. We never can “open our mouth, so wide, but he will fill it [Note: Psalms 81:10.]:” nor can we ever be more enlarged in our petitions towards him, than he will be in his communications towards us [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:11-13.].]
But the petition in our text is still more deserving of attention—
As suited to us—
Imminent as David’s dangers were, they were not to be compared with those to which we are exposed—
[David’s enemies might be eluded, intimidated, vanquished: but those with which the soul of every sinner is encompassed can never be eluded, never be overcome.
Sin is a deadly foe, that seeks to destroy every child of man. It lies in wait for us, to allure, to deceive, to ruin us. It clothes itself in specious array: it comes with a friendly aspect: it bids us fear no harm: it tells us, “We shall have peace, though we yield to its fascinations [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19.].” But it is no sooner committed, than it is registered in the book of God’s remembrance, and will come forth at a future period as a swift witness against all whom it has deceived. From man it may be hidden: and even by those who have committed it, it may be forgotten: but “it hunts the wicked man to overthrow him [Note: Psalms 140:11.];” and though it do not immediately seize the sinner as its prey, “it will be sure to find him out [Note: Numbers 32:23.],” and, like a millstone about his neck, to sink him into everlasting perdition [Note: James 1:14-15.].
The law of God also follows with its curses all who have transgressed its commands [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. It is inexorable. It is a creditor that cannot be satisfied, or appeased. It will take the sinner by the throat, saying, “Pay me that thou owest:” and, when we cannot discharge our debt, “it will listen to no entreaties, but will cast us into prison, till we have paid the uttermost farthing.” God himself appealed to his people of old respecting this: “My words, and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? And they returned, and said, Like as the Lord of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us [Note: Zechariah 1:6.].” Of the six hundred thousand men who came out of Egypt, how many entered into Canaan? None, except Joshua and Caleb; who “had followed the Lord fully.” Against all the rest a sentence of death was denounced in the very first year of their sojourning in the wilderness: and at the close of the forty years a minute inquiry was instituted; and not one was found alive [Note: Numbers 14:28; Numbers 29:35-38.]. So it will be found in the last day, that of all the threatenings in the book of God not one has fallen to the ground; and that, of all who mourned not over their transgressions of the law, not one escaped the vengeance of his God. God has said, “Their foot shall slide in due time [Note: Deuteronomy 32:35.]:” he has declared that “they shall all be turned into hell, even all the nations that forget him [Note: Psalms 9:17.]:” that “he will rain upon them snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; and that this shall be the portion of their cup [Note: Psalms 11:6.]:” he has declared it, I say; and, whether we will believe it or not, his law shall be thus honoured, and his justice shall be thus magnified, on every impenitent transgressor: for already is he “whetting his sword for the execution of his vengeance upon them; and soon will he make his arrows drunk with their blood [Note: Deuteronomy 32:41-42.].” “The soul that sinneth, it shall die [Note: Ezekiel 18:4.].”
There is yet another adversary, who is lying in wait for our souls, and, like a roaring lion, going about, seeking to devour us; and that is Satan: nor can we have any conception of the wiles and devices to which he has recourse, in order to accomplish his malignant purpose. Even in Paradise he prevailed to ensnare and ruin our first parents: and the same temptations he puts in our way, assuring us, that, in following his counsel, we shall have unqualified pleasure, and happiness without alloy. He is in Scripture compared to “a fowler [Note: Psalms 91:3.]; and, like a fowler, he spreads his nets, and allures us by temptations suited to our appetites, and by the example of sinners whom he has already ensnared, and whom he makes use of to decoy us. We see nothing but the promised gratification; and whilst one or another invites us to participate his supposed joys, we flock to him, “without considering that it is for our life [Note: Proverbs 7:23.].” Thus it is the drunkard, the whoremonger, the adulterer is ensnared: he thinks of nothing but his pleasure: but the fowler who lays the snare, foresees and prognosticates the end. Having succeeded in “taking us alive [Note: ἐζωγρημένοι. 2 Timothy 2:26.],” he “keeps us in peace [Note: Luke 11:21.],” and does all he can to hide from us our bondage: but he knows, that they who now yield to his solicitations as a tempter, will soon experience his power as a tormentor.
Another enemy also that is confederate against us, is death. He is waiting every moment to execute his commission against us; well knowing, that the instant he can inflict the stroke he meditates, all hope of our deliverance is at an end for ever. He has his eye steadily fixed on persons of every age and station: and the instruments he has at his command are as numerous as the sands upon the sea-shore. When he comes in his more visible and gradual assaults, he contrives to hide his ultimate designs, and to divert the minds of the sufferers from the thoughts of an hereafter. As the avenger of sin he entered into the world [Note: Romans 5:12.]: and in the same character he is daily sweeping millions from the earth, and bearing in malignant triumph his unhappy victims to the tribunal of their God.
Hell too combines with all the rest, and is opening wide its jaws to receive its destined prey. What the prophet said respecting the king of Babylon, may be said to every impenitent sinner under heaven: “Hell from beneath is moved for thee, to meet thee at thy coming [Note: Isaiah 14:9.].” As in that instance “it stirred up the chief ones of the earth, and raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations” to exult over the fallen monarch, so those persons who were once our partners in sin, or whom by our example we hardened in their iniquities, will all come forth to meet us, that they may in the midst of all their own torments have the malignant pleasure of beholding and of aggravating ours. It is said, that in the last day “the angels will bind up sinners in bundles to burn them;” and for this end, no doubt, that they who have been associates in wickedness may, by their mutual execrations, augment each other’s misery to all eternity. For this all hell is waiting. We are told indeed respecting the Rich Man, who lifting up his eyes in torments, desired that a messenger might be sent to his five surviving brethren, to “warn them, lest they also should come into the same place of torment:” but this was not from any love to them, but from self-love; knowing as he did by bitter experience, how greatly his own sufferings would be increased by the reproaches of those whom by his influence and example he had so contributed to destroy.
Know ye then, Beloved, that if David was in danger from the thousands who sought his life, so are ye ten thousand times more in danger from sin, which deceives you; from the law, which denounces its curse against you; from Satan, who arms against you all the hosts of hell; from death, that is ever waiting to cut you down: and from hell, that is already yawning to swallow you up.]
Say then whether David’s petition be not altogether suited to our state?
[To whom will you go for salvation, if not to the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you look to any efforts of your own? Can you ever cancel the guilt of sin? Can you ever satisfy the demands of God’s law? Can you ever vanquish Satan and all the powers of darkness? Can you ever overcome death and hell, so that they shall lose all their terrors, and have no power over you? The hope of any such thing were vain: it is impossible: and if the whole world were combined to aid you, they could effect nothing. “Though hand joined in hand” throughout the globe, “no sinner in the universe could go unpunished [Note: Proverbs 12:21.].” None can ever blot out one single sin, but He who made atonement for sin by the blood of his cross. None can silence the demands of God’s law, but He who endured its penalties, and obeyed its precepts, in order that he might “bring in an everlasting righteousness,” and “make us the righteousness of God in him.” None can “bruise Satan under our feet,” but He who “triumphed over him upon the cross,” and in his ascension “led captivity itself captive.” None can divest death and hell of their terrors, but “He who has the keys of both, and openeth so that none can shut, and shutteth so that none can open.”
Go then to him for it in David’s words; “Lord, say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.” Offer this petition humbly: offer it earnestly: offer it in faith — — — Never, from the foundation of the world, did he cast out one who came to him in sincerity and truth. If you plead with him in faith, all these enemies shall be subdued before you; and all your sorrows be turned into joy. See, in the prophecies of Isaiah, what your state shall then be: “In that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation! I will trust and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation [Note: Isaiah 12:1-2.]. Here you see that he will not only give you the deliverance you desire, but the assurance of it also, saving to your soul, “I am thy salvation.” Beloved Brethren, think what blessedness you will then enjoy. See it in David: “My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defence; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God [Note: Psalms 62:5-7.].” He then encourages you to follow his example: “Trust in him at all times, ye people: pour out your hearts before him: God is a refuge for us [Note: Psalms 62:8.].” This is the very advice which I would give also: “Pour out your hearts before him, and trust in him.” For what happiness can you possess in this world, whilst your soul, your immortal soul, is in such imminent danger? If you were only, like David, encompassed with armed hosts that were seeking to destroy you, you would be full of alarm and terror: and can you enjoy a moment’s ease, while it is doubtful whether in the space of a few days you shall not lie down in everlasting burnings? I pray you to awake from your security: and “give neither sleep to your eyes nor slumber to your eyelids,” till you have a good and well-founded hope, that Jesus is your Saviour, and till you are enabled to say with Paul, “He has loved me, and given himself for me.” ]
COMPASSION TO THE SICK
Psalms 35:13-14. As for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into my own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.
THE precepts of Christianity appear to be so pure and exalted, that all attempt to obey them must be vain. This is particularly the case with respect to the conduct which is to be observed towards those who injure us. To forgive them, is not sufficient. We must not only forbear to avenge ourselves upon them, but must do them good, and act towards them with most unbounded benevolence: “I say unto you,” says our Lord, “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” But this duty is by no means impracticable: for even under the Law it was practised to an astonishing extent by David, who laboured to the uttermost, not only “not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.”
Scarcely any thing could exceed the bitterness of Saul towards his servant David: yet when David had him altogether, and as it should seem by a special intervention of Providence, in his power, he would neither hurt him himself, nor suffer him to be hurt by others: nay more, when either Saul, or any of those who joined with him in his relentless persecution of an unoffending servant, were stricken with any disease by God himself, so far from rejoicing at it, or even being unconcerned about it, he laid it to heart, and set himself by fasting and prayer to obtain for them a removal, or at least a sanctified improvement of their sufferings: in a word, he felt for them as if they had been his dearest friends, or his most honoured relatives.
Whilst this conduct of David evinced the height of his attainments in relation to a forgiving spirit, it shewed how justly he estimated the condition of a man oppressed with sickness, and at the same time destitute of the consolations of religion, and unprepared to meet his God. This is a subject deserving of peculiar attention: for, in truth, it is very seldom viewed as it ought to be, even by religious characters. Slighter feelings of sympathy are common enough: but such as are described in our text are rarely experienced. To excite them in all our hearts, we shall shew,
How much the sick stand in need of our compassion—
Ungodly men, whether in health or sickness, are in a truly pitiable condition; for “they are walking in darkness, and ignorant whither they are going,” whilst they are on the very brink and precipice of the bottomless abyss of hell. But in sickness they are peculiar objects of our compassion: for,
They are then bereft of all that they before enjoyed—
[The pleasures of society, the sports of the field, the amusements of the theatre or the ball, and even the researches of science, have now lost their relish — — — They have neither strength nor spirits for such employments. Even the light itself, which is so cheering to those in health, is almost excluded from their chamber, because of their inability to endure its splendour.]
Nor have they any substitute to repair their loss—
[Those who were their companions in pleasure, have no taste for those things which alone would administer comfort in this trying hour. They may make from time to time their complimentary inquiries, but they cannot sympathize with the afflicted, and, by participation, lighten their burthens. If they come to visit their friend, they have nothing to speak of but vanity, nothing that can strengthen his weak hands, or sustain his troubled mind. “Miserable comforters are they all, and physicians of no value.” Nor does the sick person himself find it so easy to turn his mind to heavenly things as he once imagined. When immersed in the world, he supposed that it would be time enough to think of eternity when he should be laid aside by sickness; and he concluded that m that season he should feel no difficulty in turning his mind to heavenly contemplations: but he now finds that this is a very unfavourable season for such employment, and that pain or lassitude unfit him for them. He cannot collect his mind; he cannot fix it with any energy on things to which it has been a stranger: and the feelings of the body almost incapacitate him from attending to the concerns of the soul. Thus, however he may abound in worldly wealth and honour, he is a poor, destitute, unhappy being — — —]
But the distress of the sick is greatly aggravated, if poverty be added to all their other trials—
[A poor man in a state of health is as happy as his richer neighbours: but when he falls into sickness, his condition is very pitiable. He is unable to procure the aid which his disorders call for: yea, he cannot provide even the necessaries of life. His family, deprived of his earnings, fall into the extremest want. The little comforts which they have hitherto had for clothing by day and for rest by night, now are sold one after another to supply food for the body, or are pledged never more to be redeemed. Cold, hunger, and nakedness greatly aggravate the pressure of their disorders; and the miseries of a dependent family are an overwhelming addition to the weight already insupportable. The resources which might somewhat alleviate the sorrows of one in opulence, are wholly wanting to the poor: so that, if they have not the consolations of religion to support them in their sickness, they are objects of the deepest commiseration.]
Let us then consider,
What is that measure of compassion which we ought to exercise towards them—
If we consider only the temporal distress of the sick, our sympathy with them should be deep—
[It is not sufficient to express a few words of commiseration, and to send a little relief; we should feel for them as for ourselves; and bear a part of their burthens on our spirit, no less than in our purse. It was in this way that Job exercised this amiable disposition: “Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? Was not my soul grieved for the poor [Note: Job 30:25.]?” And it is in this way that we also must fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:2.Romans 12:15; Romans 12:15.] — — —]
But more especially should we feel this from a regard for their souls—
[Pious as David was, we can have no doubt but that in his griefs for Saul and Doeg, he had respect to their spiritual, as well as their temporal, condition. And this accounts for the strong feelings expressed in our text. He knew in what a fearful state they would be found, if they should die impenitent: and therefore, to obtain for them, if possible, a deliverance from such a heavy judgment, he fasted, and prayed, and clothed himself with sackcloth, and pleaded with God in their behalf, just as if they had been his dearest friends or relatives. He forgat all the injuries which they had done him, and were daily heaping upon him, from a persuasion that they did infinitely greater injury to their own souls, than it was possible for them to do to him. The thought of the danger in which they were of perishing for ever, quite overwhelmed him, so that he was bowed down, and as it were inconsolable, on their account. Now this is precisely the state in which our minds should be towards persons on a bed of sickness, whether they be rich or poor, friends or enemies. Their souls should be precious in our eyes: and we should exercise towards them that very same love which filled the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ, “who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:9.].” Nor let it be thought that this is proper for ministers only, or for those who have nothing else to occupy their time. David was accustomed to scenes of blood, and occupied day and night with the laborious duties of a General; yet he blended the feelings of sympathy and compassion with the intrepidity and ardour of a man of war. In like manner should we, however high our station, or numerous our engagements, find time and inclination for all the offices of Christian love.]
That we may be stirred up to such benevolence, let us contemplate,
The benefit that will accrue from it to our own souls—
Our exertions, however great, may not always prosper in the way we could wish—
[We fear that Saul and Doeg were but little profited by the sympathy of David. And we also may abound in visiting the sick, and see but little fruit of our labour. Indeed, much of the fruit which we think we see, proves only like the blossom that is soon nipped by the frost, and disappoints our expectations. Not that our labour shall be altogether in vain [Note: If this be the subject of a Sermon for a Visiting Society, or Hospital, any particular good that has been done to the souls of men may here be distinctly specified.]. We are persuaded, that if we labour with assiduity and tenderness to benefit the souls of men, God will make some use of us. Like Isaiah, we may have occasion to say, “Who hath believed our report?” yet, like him, we shall have in the last day some to present to the Lord, saying, “Here am I, and the children thou hast given me.” “The bread that we have cast upon the waters shall, in part at least, be found after many days.” ]
But our labour shall surely be recompensed into our own bosom—
[So David found it: his fastings and prayers, if lost to others, were not lost to himself: “they returned into his own bosom.” And thus it will be with us. The very exercise of love, like the incense which regales the offerer with its odours, is a rich recompence to itself. Moreover, every exercise of love strengthens the habit of love in our souls, and thereby transforms us more and more into the Divine image. And may we not say, that exercises of love will bring God himself down into the soul? We appeal to those who are in the habit of visiting the chambers of the sick, whether they have not often found God more present with them on such occasions than at any other time or place? Have they not often, when they have gone with coldness, and even with reluctance, to visit the sick, received such tokens of God’s acceptance, as have filled them with shame and self-abhorrence, for not delighting more in such offices of love?
But, if even here so rich a recompence is given, what shall we receive hereafter, when every act of love will be recorded, acknowledged, recompensed; and not even a cup of cold water given for the sake of Christ, shall lose its reward? Little as we think of such actions, (and little we ought to think of them as done by ourselves) our God and Saviour regards them with infinite delight, and will accept every one of them as done unto himself: “I was sick and in prison, and ye visited me.” Let all then know, if they thus invite the sick, the lame, the blind, to participate with them in their temporal and spiritual advantages, “they shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just [Note: Luke 14:14.Hebrews 6:10; Hebrews 6:10.].”]
[We have represented you as in some respects under great disadvantages in a time of sickness: but in other respects the advantage is altogether on your side. The friends of the rich are almost uniformly bent on keeping from them all those who would seek to benefit their souls: and, if one get access to them, one scarcely dares to speak, except in gentle hints and dark insinuations; whilst their friends in general are doing all they can to divert their minds from all serious religion. But such friends as these give themselves no trouble about you; whilst the benevolent Christian who visits you begins at once to instruct you in the things that belong to your everlasting peace. Thus all the treasures of redeeming love are opened to you, whilst they are studiously withheld from the rich; and all the consolations of the Gospel are poured into your souls, whilst even a taste of them is denied to thousands, either through their own contempt of Christ, or through the blindness and prejudice of ungodly friends. Know ye then, that if on account of your want of temporal comforts we compassionate your state, we rather congratulate you on the advantages you enjoy for your immortal souls. God has said, that “he has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of his kingdom;” and therefore we call upon you to take this into your estimate of your condition, and to adore God for having chosen better for you than you would have chosen for yourselves.]
Those who engage in visiting the poor—
[This is a good and blessed office, in the conscientious discharge of which, religion in no small degree consists [Note: James 1:27.]. Abound then, as far as your situation and circumstances will admit of it, in this holy work: but take especial care that you perform it in a proper spirit. If you would have those whom you visit to weep, you yourself must be filled with compassion, and weep over them. This is a state of mind which an angel might envy. Never did Jesus himself appear more glorious, not even on Mount Tabor, than when he wept at the grave of Lazarus [Note: John 11:35.]. Nor does God ever delight in his people more than when he sees them abounding in acts of love to men for their Redeemer’s sake [Note: Matthew 6:4.]. Only see to it that you “draw out not your purse only, but “your souls” also to the afflicted, and God will recompense it into your bosom an hundred-fold [Note: Isaiah 58:10-11.].]
The congregation at large—
[In order to administer relief to any extent, considerable funds are necessary: and where any measure of benevolence exists, it will be a pleasure to contribute towards the carrying on a work of such incalculable importance. When St. Paul went up to confer with the Apostles at Jerusalem, they added nothing to his knowledge of the Gospel; “only they would that he should remember the poor: the same which I also (says he) was forward to do [Note: Galatians 1:10.].” To you then would we recommend the same benevolent disposition; and we pray God that there may be in you the same readiness to cultivate it to the uttermost. All may not have time or ability to do much in instructing and comforting the poor: but all, even the widow with a single mite, may testify their love to the poor, and their desire to advance the good work in which a select number are engaged. Even those who are “in deep poverty may abound unto the riches of liberality [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:1-4.].” Let all then “prove the sincerity of their love to Christ” by their compassion to his poor members [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:8.]; and let them know, that “even a cup of cold water given for his sake shall in no wise lose its reward.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 35". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19